Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Three Ropes, Parramatta

It's no secret that Circa Espresso is my favourite cafe in Parramatta.  Man, I LOVE that place. I love that someone saw potential in Parramatta and realised that Westies love good cafes, trendy fitouts, good food, good coffee...and they love not having to leave Parramatta to have it. I love that someone turned west off George Street and not east and didn't open another bloody cafe in Surry Hills. We love cafes in Western Sydney too you know!

And now the guys behind Circa cafe have crossed the (railway) tracks and opened up their second espresso bar, Three Ropes.  Nestled in tiny space that was formerly the manky Parramatta Hotel's bottle shop Three Ropes has transformed a nondescript laneway into a groovy little espresso bar that would rival anything you'd find in Melbourne in terms of great coffee and "cool factor".

I visited the cafe for a takeaway coffee on my way to work on the second morning they were open (yes, I'm keen). Ordering through the side shutter made the whole exercise feel a bit like a food truck (and we all know how much I LOVE those).  I was REALLY keen to head back for a proper visit but as they're not open on weekends (I know right, so sad) I had to time my visit to fit in around my commute to work.

The cafe really is the definition of "hole-in-the-wall" with only a few tables inside and a smattering of outdoor stools to perch on in the laneway outside (eat your heart out Melbourne, we've got cool laneways too).  I started my brunch with a lovely Skinny Cappuccino ($3.50) and it was perfect.

The cafe has no kitchen to speak of, so it's freshly made toasted sandwiches and sweet treats all around.  I asked for "something with no meat" and was presented with a seriously delicious toasted Turkish-bread sandwich ($6.00) that barely contained its filling of (free-range) egg, home-made chutney and rocket.

It's not a food blog without something sweet to finish with and Three Ropes has more than enough to tempt even the most stoic amongst us (not that I stoically avoid anything, but it sounded good). I settled on this rather large biscuit dipped in chocolate with a jam filling thingy-ma-jiggy.  I'm sure it has a name, but God knows I don't know what it is.  And really who needs a name for something that I devoured within seconds.

As much as I loved the coffee and the food I REALLY enjoyed the warmth and community feel the cafe had.  After being open less than a week it already felt like it'd be around for years with local shop owners, guys from the police station and friends of the staff/owners popping in and out for coffee and a chat. And, it's hard not to strike up a conversation with the people sitting next to you in such a small cafe and to me that's exactly what a local cafe should feel belonging to a community.

And the name Three Ropes? Well, it's local too. Back "in the day" (1803) convicted criminal Joseph Samuel was sentenced to death by hanging in Parramatta. On the first attempt the rope broke, the second time the noose slipped from his neck. The third time the rope broke again and "the powers that be" decided that Samuel had more lives than a cat and he was pardoned for his crime. So there you go - a food blog AND a history lesson.

Three Ropes is at 10a Darcy Street, Parramatta.  They're not opening weekends - just Monday to Friday 6.30am - 3.30pm. 

Three Ropes Espresso on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Paella Cooking Class at Extra Virgin Fine Foods, Crows Nest

Miss Piggy attended the Paella cooking class as a guest of Extra Virgin Find Foods.

It seems that the Chefs of Sydney are taking pity on me and my self-confessed lack of cooking skills. The invitation to attend a Paella cooking class at Extra Virgin Fine Foods in Crows Nest comes as my third such invitation in as many months. Pretty soon I'll be able to put away the 2 minute noodles and cook some "real food" (seriously though, I can cook a little bit, I just get a bit flummoxed when things have too many ingredients or steps in the recipe).

Owner Mauricio Moreno (picture thanks to Helen Lear PR).
Owner Mauricio Moreno is a Uruguayan native who grew up in Western Sydney and his passion for Spanish food comes across loud and clear as he happily chats to us.  In addition to the restaurant in Crows Nest he also has a little bit of a deli happening in store (as well as an online store) which stocks various spices, pastes and small goods.  I'm particular taken with the Sangria mix - DIY Sangria in less than 20 seconds. Ole!

It's only after we're ushered into the kitchen to meet Head Chef, Vincent that I realise this is a hands-on cooking class - unlike the many demonstration classes I've been to this year!  I'm expected to cook my own lunch AND photograph it as well. This is too much for me to cope with and I quickly defer all cooking to my cooking-buddy VegeTARAian to I can take happy snaps.  Somehow though we end up having Chef Vincent do most of cooking for us. Nice work team.

 So without further adieu, let me take you on a photographical journey of Chef Vincent's cooking!

We begin by cooking the seafood in a hot hot hot Paella pan - each seafood has its separate turn in the pan.
In go the muscles (make sure they all open so you don't die) and then a Soffrito (which you can buy on line) is added to the pan (once all the seafood is removed).
In goes the special rice and Tara stirs whilst I take blurry photos.

Stock is added to the pan - Vegetarian for us on this occasion, but the others have a veal/vege stock to work with. Their Paella also has a generous portion of Chorizo.
A pinch (or two) of Spanish Paprika is added and the pan goes in and out of the oven a few times with more stock being added each time.

Set the stove on fire (surprisingly this wasn't my fault - I was on the other side of the kitchen) and char some lemon on the grill (THIS is a great tip - it makes the lemon extra juicy and it's perfect squeezed over the finished Paella).
The Paella is dressed with all the delicious seafood and we sit down to eat - really really delicious! The pre-prepared Soffrito certainly makes cooking Paella a much quicker and easier proposition.
Enjoy a few extra tasty morsels that we learnt how to cook during the class.
Once again I've been invited into somebodies professional kitchen and once again I'm overwhelmed by how willingly chefs and restaurant owners open their kitchens to show us the ropes.  It's an absolute privilege to be given this opportuntiy - for these people to give up their free time and let me get under their feet, nose about and ask all sorts of questions.

Extra Virgin Fine Foods is at 17 Alexander Street, Crows Nest. Phone them on 9436 0733. Visit their website for information class times and products available at their online store.

Extra Virgin fine foods - Tapas on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Phoenix, Parramatta

When I heard that Borders Bookshop was closing down in Westfield Parramatta I felt really sad. And then I felt VERY angry when they would not honour the gift voucher The Boy had bought me for my birthday - selling it to him one week and then going into liquidation the next. So angry (!!!!!).

And then when I heard Phoenix was opening up in the old Borders site I became happy once more as Phoenix = YUM CHA! Yum Cha is better than Borders any day of the week (plus I have a Kindle now so Borders is no longer a necessity in my Parramatta life).

I asked for ONE fork and received about 10, not THAT'S good service for you!
When checking out a new place what better way to do it than with 20 other food bloggers - we named it the #YumChaParty, booked ourselves a HUGE table complete with a Lazy Susan and gobble our way through most of the yum cha on offer for the best part of a Sunday afternoon. Blissful times.

REALLY great egg tarts - served warm.

So what did we eat?  It was crazy attempting to photograph everything that whizzed by on the Lazy Susan - I did try, but I failed. Here's a little snapshot of some of the food that stood still enough for a quick photo shoot.  I stuck to the vegetarian and seafood options of which there were plenty! Everything was hot and fresh apart from one dish that was a tad cold and was quickly replaces with a fresh plate.

I thought the food at Sky Phoenix was really great, everything was fresh (apart from that one dish, but who cares about one dish, right), the service was fast and attentive.  I thought the food was really flavoursome.  Judging by the amout we ate I think everyone was pretty happy and content.

Phoenix Parrmatta is at Westfield Parramatta: Shop 4070 159 - 175 Church Street. Phone them on 9891 3338.

Parramatta Phoenix on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 15, 2012

4Fourteen, Surry Hills

We’re lucky enough to have a Scheduled Day Off each month at my work – a luxury that makes me feel like one of the luckiest worker-bees on the planet. Thing is I’m such a lazy person that I often just waste them by blobbing about on the couch at home and pottering about (more blobbing than pottering though). For my last SDO I was determined to get my (ever-expanding) butt off the couch and head in to Surry Hills to try one of the eateries on my ever-growing wish list (ergo the ever-expanding butt problem).

Initially I was thinking of heading to Orto Trading Co or Rueben Hills – two cafes that have been on my Surry Hills radar for way to long. However I thought a Friday lunch would be a perfect time to visit Colin Fassnidge’s newest restaurant, 4Fourteen. Colin’s two other restaurants in the Eastern Suburbs are insanely popular and really busy so despite only being open for a few short weeks I already knew that 4Fourteen was PACKED to the rafters on weekends as well as for weeknight dinners.  Lunch turned out to be a perfect time to visit - not crowded, quiet and very enjoyable.

I’m not really sure why I wanted to visit 4Fourteen as I don’t feel overly motivated to visit either Four in Hand or the Paddington Arms despite their rave reviews.  I think they are just too far from where I live to make it “easy” for me to get to (I’m lazy remember, too much effort makes me want to nap). The new restaurant in Surry Hills seemed much more accessible to me – easy to get to on the train. And it seemed like a nice "special" place to catch up with Big Sister and hear all about her recent travels overseas.

We were offered a seat at the counter over-looking the open kitchen. No food blogger in their right mind would say no to this, what we’d consider a million dollar view. What a GREAT place to sit! We got to see all the action, watch our meals being prepared and ask the chefs questions (when they weren’t too busy that is).  My height-challenged sister had a few issues getting down from her perch though (which was quite fun to watch).

Big Sister decided to forgo entrees (though she did end up eating half of both of mine - hmm) which meant I had to order two entrees in order to get the "full entree experience" that sharing entrees normally brings.  The Chicken Wing with Parfait, Crispy Tortilla and Quince Chutney ($7.50 each) was sublime (and the chook was free-range so bonus points)!  Although I now know how to DIY pork crackling thanks to the #porfkest cooking class I did recently at Atelier, I still felt it necessary to order the (free range) Pork Crackling with pickled vegetables with smoked mayonnaise ($9.00).  The crackling was excellent - super crispy, light and salty.  The pickled vegies offered a wonderful acidic hit.

For mains Big Sister ordered the Seared Bonito with Fennel Juice, Vanilla Buttermilk and Celery ($18.00).  The Bonito was lightly seared - really lovely. The fennel juice was..."interesting" and didn't have an overly aniseed flavour like I was expecting. 

I ordered the Crumbed Pigs Tail with Crab and Corn Salad, Avocado Puree ($22.00) and it was totally amazing. It wasn't the de-boned pigs tail that I was expecting (of Masterchef fame), but more like shredded pork that has been crumbed then fried - the shape actually resembled those frozen fish portions we sometimes buy (ok, we buy them every week. Don't judge) rather than a piggies tail!  It was such a tasty dish - the pork was so tender and full of smokey flavour.

We thought a few sides would be in order.  Big sister choose both the Mixed Grain Salad with red and white quinoa, toasted nuts and puffed rice ($12.00) and the Orange and Ginger Carrots with Cumin and Yoghurt ($9.00).  I LOVED the big chunky carrots - deliciously caramelised and the yoghurt dressing was perfectly tart.  The Mixed Grain Salad was such a healthy healthy we decided to be virtuous and not order dessert.

4Fourteen is at 414 Bourke Street, Surry Hills (entrance via: 72a Fitzroy Street). Phone them on 9331 5399. AND THEY TAKE BOOKINGS *happy dance*.

4Fourteen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Spice of Life, Harris Park

I've recently befriend (or inflicted myself upon) some new blogger friends - all of whom are expats in Australia. Two girls are from the USA and another hails from the UK. The two Americans have just landed in Oz after a stint in the UK...and they were ALL hankering after some decent Indian food reminiscent of the "good stuff" found in the UK. 

It just so happens that I live VERY VERY close to Sydney's Little India (aka Harris Park). A heady and mouthwatering aroma of exotic spices envelopes this suburb - you smell the delicious food long before your stomach gets anywhere near it. 

Wigram Street is where you'll find the majority of the restaurants in Harris Park, with a few up on Marion Street. There are Indian grocers, spice shops, video stores and sari shops aplenty (along with a few Arab delis, butchers and cake shops - a nod to the fact that we're only a few kilometers from Auburn - Sydney's Little Turkey I guess you'd call it).

The majority of the restaurants can be found in lovely little cottages - however tonight we have our sights set on Spice of Life - an enormous Indian restaurant (apparently the biggest in Australia no less)! It's been highly recommended to us by an Indian colleague of VegeTARAian's as being quite authentic and we have an excellent meal - delicious food, great service and loads of laughs.

As with all good Indian meals we start with a basket of lovely, crispy Pappadums that come served with a tangy yoghurt Raita.  It's Kingfisher beers all around (they go down WAY to easily I think) as well as our flat bread of choice - Roti bread for me, and Naan for most of the others.

Tara and I are sharing Vegetarian meals tonight and we start with a Mixed Vegetable Platter for 2 ($16.00).  I don't ever recall seeing a Vegetarian entree platter at an Indian restaurant before - so we're both pretty impressed.  The platter houses a selection of Samosa, Paneer Tandoori and Batata Vada (mashed seasoned potatoes mixed with spices and deep fried).  We both REALLY love the Paneer which is pan fried in a mix of spices, capsicum and onions.  If I could figure out the spice mix I think this would be pretty easy to whip up at home.

For mains Tara chose Baigan Achari ($15.00) - a beautiful beautiful roasted eggplant dish cooked with onion in a hot spicy sauce of traditional spices and garnished with coriander. This dish was wonderful - the eggplant SO smokey. Amazing.  Weather I'm eating Vegetarian or not I always find it hard to go past an Indian main that has Cottage Cheese in it - thus my choice for our mains is Malai Kofta ($15.00) -  cottage cheese and cashew nut dumplings simmered in saffron scented creamy sauce.  This was excellent - a nice balance of flavours and this dish wasn't too creamy at all.

The Boy - who was slumming it down the Vego end of the table - decided on a Non-Vegetarian Thali ($18.00). Thali plates are AMAZING - perfect for the indecisive person who wants to try loads of different things and they are WAY more filling than the individual little dishes make them out to be. The plate comes with a mix of  vegetable curries, non-veg curries, roti, green salad, mixed pickles, raita and pappadums. And, you even get dessert!!! All on ONE PLATE!!!

There was a meat-festival going on at the other end of the table - all too hard to photograph from my end of the table whilst scoffing and photographing my own food.  Check our SarahKates blog for a low-down on what the carnivores got up to that night.

After dinner we wandered across the road to Taj for some amazing Indian Sweets...a good night was had by all I think - judging by the amount of groaning and belly rubbing that went on after we'd finished dessert.
Spice of Life is at 116 Wigram Street Harris Park. Phone them on 9762 1033.

Spice of Life Restaurant & Functions on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Sun Ming, Parramatta

Before I started my food blog I'd don't think I'd ever HEARD of Congee - it certainly wasn't something that was on my "food radar" nor I was desperate to try it.  To my defense I am the child of a European mum and an English dad.  I spent high school locked away in a country town boarding school.  There's not much Congee floating around in country Australia, nor in the food my parents served me up as a kid. And Miss Piggy only has so much tummy room. There are only so many meals in the day...Congee wasn't high on my priority list.  After all I have a list longer than my arm of food I need to try before I loose my teeth and end up in a nursing home.

Fellow bloggers who are of a Chinese background are often talking about Congee - how delicious it is, how it cures all ails, how it's the truest form of comfort food.  All I knew was it looked like porridge and I HATE porridge so there's no way I'm going to like Congee. No way at all.  But I was happy to give it a go - you don't know until you try it, right? My neighbour and fellow food blogger Ramen just happens to be a bit of a Congee aficionado and he took me to his favourite local Congee joint in Parramatta, Sun Ming, to pop my Congee cherry.

Sun Ming is your typical cheap and cheerful Chinese Restaurant - tiled floors, never-ending cups of jasmine tea, plastic basket with sauces and wotnot, functional tables and chairs that can be quickly wiped down before the next hungry customer takes a seat.  And, of course the ubiquitous fish tanks lining the wall with sad looking fish looking...well, sad.

We try not to catch the eye of the mournful looking fish and get down to the business of ordering. Because this is my first Congee outing The Boy, VegeTARAian and I decided to share a Congee with King Prawns - none of us wanted to commit to an entire bowl of the stuff without having a taste of it first.  Congee is best eaten with a side of Fried Dough which is dunked into the Congee.  Fried Dough is seriously delicious on its own (I ate a pile of it before the Congee even arrived at the table).  Dunked into Congee = perfection.

And the Congee?  I LOVED it. It's warming, comforting, and perfect for the cold weather. It's simple, unassuming but so packed with flavour.  There are slivers of ginger floating around in the bowl giving the Congee an unexpected "zing". I loved the plump king prawns and the crumbled wontons dusted across the top of the bowl.  The dish is HUGE though - I would struggle to eat a bowl on my is a dish best shared, which is comforting in itself.

Of course food bloggers cannot live on Congee along.  The Boy orders a plate with Roast Pork and Char Sui Pork with some token Asian Greens on the side to stop any onset of sudden heart attacks.  He's in heaven and very happy that I've "gone all free-range" so he doesn't have to share with me.  It actually takes all of my willpower and morals not not snaffle some of his roast pork - it looks fantastic.

Ramen and his housemate D keep things simple with a classic Sweet and Sour Pork.  They both seem really happy with their choice. The meat is really well cooked and the batter super crispy.  I like that it doesn't have that weird pink colour that many Sweet and Sours seem to.

VegeTARAian and I share a Vegetable Hotpot which was AWESOME! The clay pot is packed with tofu puffs, Asian greens and mushrooms. It's hearty and warming - utterly delicious and I feel healthy eating it. In fact the whole meal leaves me feeling "good on the inside". 

So the moral of the story? Don't turn your nose up at something until you've tried it Miss Piggy. Congee is awesome...just think of all the Congee eating years you've missed out on.

Sun Ming is at 125 Church Street, Parramatta. Call them on 9689 2178.

Sun Ming on Urbanspoon

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